US News had a nice article on the history of abolition, entitled Who ended the slave trade? In it, the author makes some great observations that deal with our liberal, revisionists understandings of slavery, it’s origins, and it’s abolition. And the whole string of conversation begain with a review of David Brio Davis’s Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. Below, I summarize the excellent points made in the USN article.
1. British and American Slavery was part of A Worldwide Culture of Slavery, Not A White Oppressive Regime
Multicultural elites in the US like to portray “American slavery as particularly vicious and slavery as a system imposed by evil Dead White European Males on a virtuous but unfortunately powerless Rest of the World.”
Almost all human societies had slavery.
2. Only Western Ideals led to Abolition
Only one human society–the Anglosphere, starting in Britain and then in America–set out to abolish first the slave trade (enormously profitable to many Britons) and then slavery itself (enormously profitable to many Americans). “There had been nothing like it in ancient or medieval times or in any other society of which we have record.”
3. Secular Ideals did not lead to abolition
The philosophes of France, with their emphasis on pure reason, did not think to advocate the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. (See Gertrude Himmelfarb’s The Road to Modernity: the British, French, and American Enlightenments on this point: The French philosophes’ idea of a good society was one ruled by enlightened despots, i.e., despots governed by themselves, which their successors tried to put into place during the French Revolution.)
4. The Christian belief in moral equality of all persons was the key idea that led to abolitionism
Secular elites of our day, or for that matter their counterparts of a century or two centuries ago, like to think that all human progress is due to secular reason. But Christian belief in the moral equality of every person played a key role in inspiring the Britons and then the Americans who led the fight to abolish the slave trade and then slavery. Others followed in their wake. This, I think, is a lesson also of Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, a book I have written about with admiration before.
5. History undeniably supports the claim that Christian thought is the only system that has led to abolition
Hochschild…approaches the subject from the perspective of the American left…[but] has immersed himself in the documents that tell this story, and gives the Christian inspiration of the first opponents of the slave trade–the first opponents of the slave trade in human history–its due. As we try to fathom the mindset of Islamofascists who fight violently for genuine evil, it is worthwhile to take some time to fathom the mindset of people–Evangelical Christians, most of them, in this case–who fought nonviolently for genuine goodness.